The Last Airbender had the potential to be good, but a bad script and worthless 3D held it back.
Four nations all pertaining to the elements, Air, Water, Earth and Fire live peacefully amongst each other, with the Avatar leading them. But when the Avatar disappears, the Fire Nation tries to take over the world, and systematically destroy everyone in their path. They know they must find the Avatar so that he can not return and lead everyone back to prosperity. But it is two young siblings, Sokka and Katara who find him. Katara is one of the last Waterbenders and learns she must accompany the Avatar as he learns how to control all four elements. But two groups of Firebenders are on the hunt - Prince Yue, who must capture the Avatar in order to reclaim his rightful place in the Kingdom; and Commander Zhao, who will stop at nothing to destroy everyone in his way.
I've never seen the TV show upon which The Last Airbender is based, so whether it holds true to the original story, I can't say. What I can say is, this movie was a lot more boring than I imagined it would be. Part of that I can blame on the trailers which show pretty much all the action sequences there are. Part of that can be blamed on just poor writing on the part of M. Night Shyamalan. And part of that can be blamed on most of the actors, who give poor performances although they're only working with what they're given. Shyamalan to me, was always a good storyteller. I was with him during The Sixth Sense, even though when you go back and watch that movie, it too is really boring up until the twist. It's a slow, plodding film that everyone loved because of the surprise ending. I enjoyed Unbreakable, although once again that was a movie that had a really slow build to the revelation at the end. Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water - all had good stories, but the pacing of the movies was slow and the dialogue was weak. And Shyamalan brings all of that to The Last Airbender. Here is a movie that has everything going for it, yet it plods along at a ridiculously slow pace with action scenes few and far between. And the dialogue? I understand there's a lot of people who know these characters, but a larger number who don't, so you need to explain a lot of what is happening. But it felt like every other sentence had to explain something. And it did so in a manner that was comical rather than serious. Here for instance, is what a typical conversation might be like:
Girl: How old are you?
Boy: I am 12.
Girl: Why are you 12?
Boy: I am 12 because the Earth revolves around the Sun. When a complete revolution takes place, it is called a year. I have lived for 12 of those revolutions. Therefore, I am 12.
Girl: You are 12. We must run!
The trailers give away most of the action scenes. For the majority of the movie whenever there was a fight, it was quick. It was only at the end where something lasted a little longer than a few seconds. And even then, it wasn't as majestic as it could have been. Now, some of that might be blamed on the theater I saw it in. It was an older theater and the screen didn't have that glossy sheen a lot of the newer ones do. But part of it is because the 3D on this film was completely pointless. Here you had people who could bend the elements and yet none of that was used to make the movie exciting. The only reason this movie is in 3D is to charge higher ticket prices. The 3D served absolutely no purpose and there is NO reason to pay the extra money for it. The problem with converting to 3D is that, and I've said this before, the picture looks darker once you put on the glasses. And still no filmmaker has lightened their film to compensate for it. 3D movies to me lose a lot of the richness you expect from these kinds of movies. It makes the movie look really bland. You had a lot of white and snow and water in the movie (since the story serves at the basis for what I imagine will be a trilogy) and yet it felt dark and cold.
The actors were just so-so. The one actor who did stand out was, thankfully, the Avatar, played by Noah Ringer. While his line delivery wasn't great, his movements were impressive, and there is a lot of martial arts-looking movement in the movie. Bending air, water, fire or earth isn't something you can just flick your wrist at. You have to go through a lot of convoluted movement in order to get something to move for you. The rest of the actors didn't amount to much, but again, they weren't given much to work with.
As much as I disliked the movie, all (well, most) could have been forgiven if it led to a fantastic ending. But again here is where the 3D took away from the ending. What could have been a magical battle sequence turned into a headache. And the story here took a nosedive. The Waterbenders had weeks to prepare for battle. They all knew it was coming. And yet when the Firebenders attack, everyone looks shocked, even though they came in boats that you could see from miles away. And why, when everyone is ready for battle, are there women with vegetables running through the middle of town? And if you can move fire and water, why are you fighting in hand-to-hand combat? I don't think I've seen more inept fighters. Shyamalan tried desperately to give this movie a big, epic feel... but he didn't come close to succeeding.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was disappointed with The Last Airbender. It had potential, and maybe in better hands it would have been a fun film. But instead we got a slow, plodding story with only so-so special effects.